“Hing” can be a scary thing. It has an unpleasant, pungent smell in the raw and tastes of leeks when cooked. The spice’s real name is even scary: Asafoetida. Is that something you can eat? It’s the dried resin of a tree. Is that the most stereotpyical thing an ethical vegan can request on a sandwich? Something that is literally the essence of a tree?
Philadelphia’s Govinda’s Gourmet Vegetarian Restaurant is almost always closed, but its sister establishment, Gourmet To Go, offers up classic Philly food with the least-classic imaginable accoutrements – hing, soy chicken, and, if you’re smart, a bowl of yellow split pea soup. The Philly Chicken is one of Gourmet To Go’s signature sandwiches, and one of the most palatable for first-time visitors, standing in stunned silence as they glance across a menu of kofta ball subs, grilled soy mackeral and something called “Chicken Queasily.” The chicken imitates without simulating; the bread stays crisp-into-softness, even when dipped in the dahl. Rainbow peppers are a delightful addition, and a more seasoned wordsmith might find more than a taste delight at their end.
I have dined at this South and Broad eatery on several occasions, and during nearly every visit I am accompanied by an omnivore. They never leave unhappy. While initially shocking in lieu of its deceptively simple name, Gourmet To Go manages to distill the essence of mid-Philadelphia cooking and leave the pungent smell at the door.